In the rhythm of the training week, Thursday nights have always been reserved for something a little harder than a regular run. In late spring and summer, it might be a tempo run at Fresh Pond; in the Fall, it might be hills, and in the winter, Thursday nights will usually find us careening around an indoor track for our main workout of the week. But in early spring, when our winter program of workouts at BU has ended and the weather is iffy, you never know exactly what to expect from Thursdays.
The last couple of weeks, a few of us have tried to fill the by heading over to Harvard’s Gordon Track.
The main attraction and the main challenge of a Thursday night at Harvard is sharing the space with the Jets. I’m talking, of course, about the Cambridge Jets, a youth club that practices at Harvard on Mondays and Thursdays throughout much of the year. I have to say, the Jets are an impressive group. On any given night, fifty or more kids will show up, some as young as six or seven. There are several coaches, and during the course of their practice, the mob breaks into smaller groups for warm ups, drills, and eventually intervals on the track.
Fifty kids of all ages and multiple groups can be a circus, and it’s good practice to finish one’s workout before the Jets really get going on the track. However, that rarely happens, and there’s almost always some overlap. So what you have is a small group of big people running long, steady intervals, and many groups of really fast kids running short, burst-y intervals. The interactions can be hilarious.
For one thing, the kids have a primitive sense of track etiquette. Or, to put it in simpler terms, the kids aren’t really aware that there’s anyone else using the track. This is understandable, and would be adorable except that sometimes it leads to near collisions and awkward interactions. Some examples:
- As we labor through our 800s, one group of teenage Jets is warming up by running in lanes 2-6 of the track in the opposite direction to us. As we sneak by on in the inside lane, they are talking and laughing and occasionally drifting down into the outside of lane 1. Thankfully, there are no accidents as we pass each other twice every lap.
- As we come around the final turn into the homestretch, a large group of kids waits at the starting line, completely occupying lanes 1-3, oblivious to anything happening behind them. Sometimes their coaches pull them off the track, and sometimes we swing out to lane 4 to avoid having to announce our presence by yelling “track,” which might get us banned from future Thursday nights.
- Towards the end of our workout, as the Jets are just getting started, we sometimes find ourselves overtaking a group of really young kids. The great thing about these kids is that they don’t really know what they’re doing, they’re just running and reacting to random stuff all around them. So when we pull up along the outside, they might respond with a burst of speed, or a veer into another lane, or race us all the way to the line.
For all the bedlam, being in the same facility with the Jets has its pleasures, too. There’s something very cool about seeing all these kids who love to run and who’ve already developed legit runner strides, beautiful long strides on spindly young legs. It’s also pretty awesome to see six- and seven- year olds in speed suits and wrap-around shades, miniature Usain Bolts, with all the swagger ready for the world to see.
There’s also something very pure about the way these kids run. You can’t help feeling and sharing their joy in movement. At the beginning of every repeat, they off at a gallop, and if they get tired, they just slow down for a bit, until they feel like picking it up again. A few wear serious expressions, but as rule, most of them look like they’re having a good time. And within a few moments of finishing a lap, they’re laughing again, just hanging out, just chillin’ with their friends.
At some point, their coach tells them to do something else, and they do that, too. I suspect that, unlike us, they aren’t troubled about laps they have not yet run. Without trying, they inhabit the moment and trust that the future will take care of itself.
What could be better than this? Running that’s simple, uncomplicated, and fun.
Kids do have a way of developing legit runner strides. They have natural grace. Yet very few adults seem to have natural grace. What happens in between, as kids grow in to adults? My suspicion is that the explanation is simple: we beat it out of them by imposing our society’s bad habits on them. Strap on these clunky shoes, sit in class, sit in a car, sit in front of the TV, eat this junk, and so on, until eventually nature’s miracle of evolution is overwhelmed, stunted, deformed, and it’s delicate beauty destroyed. I say, “no more!” That may sound dramatic, but I stand by it one-hundred percent. Watching David Rudisha is as awe-inspiring to me as watching a cheetah. Raise the cheetah on burgers and sitting and clunky shoes and he may run with about as much grace as the average American. Raise our children with barefoot shoes, clean food and room to run and they may all be beautiful runners. We might not all set world records, but we all deserve that a modicum of our natural grace be spared.